Observations of Noorderkwartier

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Lecture VIII - Participant Observation & Field Note Taking in urban spaces

An observation on the pedestrian bridge over the Willem de Zwijgerlaan

On April 19, 2021 I carried out an observation at the edge of the Leiden neighbourhood Noorderkwartier, between 15:30-16:30. More specifically, I set up on the bridge over the Willem the Zwijgerlaan, where the Daendelspad and the Zwarte Pad cross. This is a public space with lots of traffic: behind me is a high school and a mosque, right to me is another neighbourhood, left of me is the Willem de Zwijgerlaan and the part of the neighbourhood closest to the singels.

The people passing through look very diverse and from all walks of life: there are high school kids, old people with a helmet on e-bikes, old people on old bikes, young people on a swapfiets and middle aged people on a cargo bike passing by.

A group of high school children bike by, loudly laughing. They are coming from the northern part of Noorderkwartier, maybe from the nearby high school. Sometimes a child bikes by on his own, looking very angry. I got stared at a few times, it made me very uncomfortable. Another man around his twenties bicycles by playing music loudly from his Bluetooth speaker.

I saw a lot less e-bikes than in the rest of Leiden, and if there was an e-bike it was either a delivery person or an old person with a helmet. The bikes I saw were either nice bikes or really beaten up and well used. There were a lot less swapfietsen than I am used to, presumably there are less students (that can pay for a swapfiets) in this area.

As I was taking a picture an older woman with a dog walked up to me to have a chat. She asked me what I am taking a picture of and we briefly talked about the old energy plant and the old building of the PTT. She did not ask what I was doing, so I did not tell her.

A helicopter flew over; I don't know what it was doing.

I noticed that a lot of people are carrying shopping bags or other purchases. I saw a person with a bag from the spar, another with a new grill pan, someone with a bag from Dirk and a man carrying a white bag full of raw meat. Usually they moved from the city center to above the Willem de Zwijgerlaan.

Children and people in their twenties moved through this area running, as they were having a jog. Sometimes older people would cycle by on a racing bike, but they would not necessarily go fast or be dressed to go sporting. One man cycled by in a full suit on a thin-rimmed racing bicycle.

A man around his thirties listening to music passes by on his bicycle singing loudly. I smile at him and he laughs.

I walk around and find a tree on top of the bridge. It is a wishing tree, you can hang a wish in the tree. There is one wish by a young girl.

Observation 2

Noorderkwartier, Theehuis, 2021-05-07, 15:40

I am at the Theehuis which is currently closed due to corona. It is across from a playground. The trafic consists of mostly parents with children and an occasional jogger. There are also lots of ducks.

Two women, supposedly the owners of the Theehuis, and a child arrive and enter the building. They stay there for the rest of my observation. The kid tells the women that it wants to leave but they still have things to do.

I can hear water from the fountain that is not too far away, as well as a train, a rooster crow, chirping birds and a frog. It is quite relaxing. The signs warning me of bad water quality ruin the vibe though.

Kids are playing on rocks and in the playground. There is traffic in front of the appartment buldings. A woman is walking her dog and seems to be in a rush. Not far away there is a skateing pool, older kids are playing there.

A little girl ran off, leaving her bike on the playground. She comes back for it later. Lots of teenagers from the nearby high school bike past. Some old people walk along as well as some students on a stroll.

Some conclusions:

  • The playground is used.
  • Main traffic people on a recreational walk and students from the high school.
  • This place is the most social hub Noorderkwartier has and it is very quiet.
  • Not a lot happened during the observation and it is difficult to conclude many things.

Observation 3

Noorderkwartier, Albert Heijn Kooiplein, 2021-05-26, 15:00

I arrive at the ALbert Heijn Kooiplein which is on the edge of Noorderkwartier, bordering de Kooi. As I am finding a place to sit down (that ended up being nearby step of the stairs) a woman talks to me: "you should sit on the bench over there!" Very sweet of her, she saw I was uncomfortable. But I wanted to hear the interactions that happened in front of the Albert Heijn.

Those were few however. People are just shopping, going in and out quickly. There are over ten families who walk past in the next hour as well as a diverse crowd of people. Most come either from de Kooi or Noorderkwartier. There is also a lot of police, though that comes to no surprise because there is a police station across the street.

Some interactions I did see are the people on this picture though I couldn't hear them. In the background there is a team installing a new window on the building Pleinzicht.

These curious people are looking out of their window, observing the window being installed below. I think their vantage point is very interesting. The crossing they look over appears to be quite dangerous, I saw two near misses in the short hour I was there.

The kinds of people who go here are from all walks of life. Some examples:

  • Teenagers yelling in front of the Topvis.
  • A 'kortpittig' looking lady guzzling down water she just bought in the shop.
  • Someone coughing in her hand, through her facemask, after which she lowers it below her nose.
  • An unkept man in dirty clothes getting a sixpack of beer.
  • Some older lady makes eye contact with me and starts complaining to her friend. She is also complaining about her friend, but in an annoying way where she does not seem to recognize how good her life is. The word that pops into my mind is 'boomer'.
  • A man on his bike yells hello to his friend.
  • An old lady with an extremely fat bikelock.
  • A student having a cigarette.
  • A man with a bottle on the bench.
  • Two young men meet, one greeting the other with "wat heb je een leipe schoenen aan!"

There are a lot of ages and a lot of languages. Some joggers again go past. Only one person came down the stairs I am sitting on. Often people come to the shops alone on their bicycle. They stay for 16-20 minutes.

Observation 4

Noorderkwartier, Theehuis, 2021-06-04, 11:50

Once more at the Theehuis, on a very sunny day now. Students from the nearby highschool are making use of the nice weather: a group of kids, first year of highschool, are hanging out in the wooden playstructure. They have bought snacks and drinks which they are consuming in a way that is typical of that age group in their chillspot. They are having 'cool young adult' conversations. A group is splitting off to get water.

One of the children throws some water over himself to cool off. A few minutes later another child asks him why he's all wet. He awkwardly stumbles for an answer.

These teenagers aren't the only ones making use of the space. Again there are people on a stroll and some joggers. In the nearby skatepool a lot of young children are playing with their guardians, it is completely filled with children. There is also still an abundance of ducks.

Around 12:09 there is a wave of students, maybe there is a break or it is the end of their schoolday. Though a bit later even more students flow out of the highschool.

Fluff from the trees is blowing in the wind. Other people walk past: a man with a pusher, two alternative looking girls on a skateboard, more ducks.

The 'cool teenagers' have a rich vocabulary. They talk to eachother using the words boys and bro along with some colorfull language: snacks they dont like gives them a mondhernia and one boy has to say about spicy crisps "ik moet kotsen van dat chipje!" They also joke about being climate neutral in a very sincere way that shows they care.

Of course they are up to mischief too. They are stomping on their empty cans and swing the swing over the beam that it is attatched to so it is unusable for younger children.

They leave around 12:30. They left the space and took their trash, the place is spotless. It really shows again their respect and values for the climate and the space.

On the balcony of the building behind the Theehuis someone is knocking out a blanket on their balkony, as in the picture. On the foreground are children playing soccer.

Three boys walk past, one steals the cap off of the head of another. He responds calmly "Hé, blijf van m'n pet af."

At 12:35 the school bell rings. Almost all students are gone, only a small group is still playing soccer behind the Theehuis.

There is also a woman with her small (~3 years old) daughter playing in the playgruond. The girl is scared of the ducks.

Observation 5

Noorderkwartier, Tuinvereniging "Ons Buiten", 2021-05-27

This last observation is not an observation like the previous four. Here I will discuss my experience walking through the gardening community and talking to two people who rent a garden there. These conversations gave more insight in the neighbourhood than all of the four observations above combined.

Sufyan

The man in this picture is Sufyan. We asked him for an interview, he said he had no time at the moment but to meet him at 15:00 in front of his garden.

As we arrived he wasn't there yet, but he too arrived shortly with two kids. It turned out one is his son and the other a friend of his son. The kids played and we chatted with Sufyan for about an hour. He explained a little about his life: he's an archeologist, connected to the university, his background, being in a high risk covid group.

Furthermore Sufyan explained how the community gardens work. You rent a plot from the municipality for a few hundred euros per year. If you spend more than a few months per year there the rent goes up significantly. The ground is owned by the municipality, everything on the ground is yours: the grass, house, trees, etc. However, to be allowed to rent a plot you need to be voted in by the gardening community. This is a very friendly and tight group of people who require that you do some amount of volunteering every year. This keeps the gardens in touch with the rest of the neighbourhood.

The house on Sufyan's plot was already there, he bought it from the previous owner. Additionally Sufyan has a greenhouse on his plot. There is water in the summer and limited water in the winter.

The people are very friendly towards each other and help out. As an example; the path behind Sufyan's house had a problem which was fixed as a surprise by his neighbour, without any expectations in return.

The whole place felt far removed from any city, like we were in the middle of a forrest. I couldn't hear cars or any other loud city sounds, I just heard birds and the rustling of the wind. I felt particularly stressed that day, but being in nature in Sufyan's garden really calmed me down.

It became clear that Sufyan did not feel tied down to Leiden as he spent a significant amount of time around the world, but was very happy with his living situation here. He told us: "I am not Dutch, I am Dutchable."

Ali

At a different plot we asked to interview Ali. He invited us to his garden where he had a fire going. Very kindly Ali asked us if we would like some coffee, but we politely refused. He told us all sorts of stories about his life which was lovely. We conducted the interview and were on our way again.

That concluded our session of the day and Carlota, her boyfriend and I split off from Karolijn. As we walked towards the inner city Ali spotted us in his car. He rolled down his window and asked if we are sure we don't want any coffee?

Ali told us to meet him at the office of the neighbourhood association. We walked there and went in. There was a real language barrier because Ali does not speak English while Carlota and her boyfriend don't speak Dutch; I was acting as a translator.

Once inside the coffee got upgraded to soup, tea and cookies. Ali told us about his life: he worked as a welder and ran fish shops with his sons. Now he is the president of the neighbourhood association which organizes initiatives for the people of Noorderkwartier. One of them being a soup afternoon, on the Wednesday. He was particularly excited that it could take place again because covid was becoming less of an issue.

Since he knew that we study at Leiden University he called one of the volunteers who help make the soup. She lived close by and came over. I think Ali either expected us to know each other or to make friends, but as she arrived it was time for us to leave.

These experiences really gave a look into a beautiful part of the community of Noorderkwartier. This community is not directly visible from observations at the Theehuis or the Kooiplein and I am really happy I got to capture them anyway.